The Backstory

Not your typical Commerce grad

Photo of Jessica Lui wearing a white dress and gold necklace.

Photography by Lucy Lu

Jessica Lui, Com’14, is not your typical Commerce graduate. She has had a successful career as a management consultant and UN youth ambassador, started a tech company recognized by then-U.S. president Barack Obama at the 2016 Global Entrepreneurship Summit, and has been named one of Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women.

She intended to become an accountant when she applied to Queen’s, but discovered new passions and interests during her time at Smith School of Business – corporate strategy, public speaking, humanitarian work – that became the foundation of her career.

Ms. Lui shared some lessons from her unusual journey at the Queen’s TEDx event on Jan. 26, 2020, at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts. Her talk, “Who do you dream of becoming? Success starts with finding yourself,” may be a year and a half old, but because of

COVID-created delays, it was uploaded this May, and is just starting to catch on among TED audiences.

The TED Talk was the culmination of a journey and was inspired by the young leaders she mentors. At the time, she was providing mentorship to Queen’s alumni and others in her network, and she wanted to share a message that would resonate with an audience full of students about to embark on their careers. “The university years lay the groundwork for the person you become,” she says. “They really are your opportunity to figure out who you are.”

The most common question she hears from her young protégés is, “How can I become more successful?” She knew the answer to that question would make for a compelling 18 minutes on the TEDx stage.

It’s a big question, but in the nine years from the day she arrived at Queen’s until the day she gave her talk, Ms. Lui collected enough wisdom from mentors and her own experiences to take an earnest stab at the answer.

In addition to her unconventional career, she has found she is often the only woman – and the only person of colour – in the spaces she occupies. “I’ve learned in my life and career that, where you are the only one in the room who looks like you or who has had the experiences you’ve had, that you don’t have to forge your path alone. Build your network, use your voice, get a seat at the table, and shape the future you want to see. In doing so, you’ll blaze the trail for others to follow.”

Rather than spoil a good TED Talk, let’s just say Ms. Lui’s experiences led her to realize there is no single answer to her question. “Your journey and definition of success should be uniquely your own,” she says. “If you can define what matters, what brings you purpose, passion, joy, and fulfilment, and you can bring that to your career and your life, you can bring something to the world that is powerful and unique.”

Prefer the offline issue?

The Queen's Alumni Review is the quarterly magazine for Queen's University alumni. Compelling stories and photos make it a must-read for all who love Queen's.

Download Summer 2021